Ten things you hope the client never says

Working from home as a full-time freelance web developer I’ve encountered some absolutely stunning lines from clients and so have friends of mine. This is a small collection of those lines to watch out for if you choose to go into the field yourself.

1. If you do this one for free…

This has to be one of the most popular. People always want something for as little as possible, the notion of ‘you get what you pay for’ normally doesn’t register until at least eighteen years old, but the notion can be ignored at ages high above this.

2. This will be great exposure…

This usually comes before number 1, ‘If you do this one for free you’ll get great exposure’. The problem is great exposure isn’t a link in the footer and it isn’t a mention in the launch post. Great exposure is guaranteed jobs afterwards, and lots of traffic for your own personal site – that and possibly free advertising in a prominent placement.

3. Deposit?

Some clients want you to effectively work for free. No deposit and lots of free work = one starving freelancer. To be free to accept work that doesn’t involve deposits be sure to have some money stored away to eat away at until the client pays in the end. Make sure they are trustable and will pay in the end. Be sure to do your research.

4. Can I put this on my GeoCities?

It takes the breath out of you, working on something for a long time and then a client asking you if they can put it on an incompatible hosting platform that won’t support it. It makes for some difficult explaining but makes one great entry on a ‘ten things you hope the client never says’ article.

5. I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want it anymore

This is always an annoyance, and is sometimes a requirement in order to progress onto other projects. But it’s always something that will affect you on a personal level.

6. Ok can you just add this, and this

“You want money for the additions? You said you’d do everything for a set price!’. This one starts a lot of arguments and can affect your relationship with the client dramatically depending on how you react. To prevent this one blowing up on you always outline a clear feature set before starting work and outline exactly what you’ll deliver. Also outline what additional costs will be monetarily to the client. Will they be by the hour? Or a fixed fee? Discussed on arrangement? Whatever it is – it’s always best to plan these things out beforehand.

7. I just need you to look the other way whilst we break this law..

Whether it be tax law (it usually is) or some kind of pass the parcel – breaking the law is bad, um kay? Be sure to brush up on your tax laws that apply to you – make sure that if your hired to do a job for a company as an employee that they are handling your taxes, and if you are a contractor that you sort out your own. It always helps to know a small amount of law, and to consult an accountant when you aren’t sure of something.

8. My mum says that she won’t let me use her credit card so I can’t pay you

Funny, but a huge cringe worthy moment. It happens to all of us once in a blue moon, and it makes a fun entry.

9. Yahoo! will buy us

This is normally followed by number 1 and/or 2. People get bought all the time – but it’s simply not the case that millions are involved with every purchase of another site. Yahoo! may buy anywhere between one and tens of sites a year, but that’s between one and tens of several million websites out there.

10. Nothing at all

The client disappears, drops off the face of the earth. It’s your worst nightmare, they get you started on a project and leave, they give you a brief about a project tell you the deposit is coming and then you never hear from them. To avoid this make sure you always have a backup plan and if you can get a secondary contact for your client – that’s even better.

I’d like to thank Ronalfy for giving me the idea for this article. If you have any other things you’d like to see me write feel free to leave a comment or use my contact form to send it directly.

28 Responses

  1. Jorge Quinteros

    haha, very funny and true list. I’ve come across a few of these I must admit.

  2. stu

    jay, what about when clients ask you for an example of the design youre going to produce, or a ‘demo’? is this a sure sign that youre about to have a design stolen?

  3. Jamie Huskisson

    Sometimes Stu, though designers can mask this out by watermarking and various other methods, unfortunately it’s largely based on trust when it comes to answering those questions.

    Coder’s aren’t so lucky when someone wants them to upload the site to the client’s server. Though there are clever ways of protecting yourself too.

  4. stu

    hrm, well, what about if its a simple layout that can be easily reproduced, but they just want the basic idea to take from you? is it worth the time and risk?

  5. Jamie Huskisson

    Providing you’ve got a contract or at least a deposit down for the work your alright. It’s up to your personal opinion of the client on whether you should show them or not. If your being paid strictly for a design then you can send it them with ‘preview’ over it (if your really paranoid).

    Also you can lodge complaints against the firm or individual through the area you found them if they are truely ripping you off once you’ve sent them a preview of the design.

  6. Darius

    great point on 6, i’ve had that problem a couple off times. I try and make sure they fill out a document telling me exactly what they want so when its done i can remind them it wasn’t there originally and a little extra money would be nice ;).

    Another great article Jay, keep em coming. I have to say that your blog is one off my daily stops now :).


  7. H. Roberts

    Haha, they’re great! Advice that should be heeded as well as laughed at! Number one has happened to me before. What do they expect to hear?? “You want it for free? Sure! Why would I expect you to pay?” Idiotic

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  11. Chas Grundy

    Heard a lot of these as well… which is why many of us have rules we follow:

    1. Never start work without a contract.
    2. Never do work without a deposit.
    3. Never do spec work.
    4. Maintain regular contact and clear communication.
    5. If you don’t feel right about the work and don’t trust the customer, don’t do the project.

    The first three are really saying the same thing: don’t work for free.

  12. Amber Yount

    HAHA I’ve had alot of #1 and #2 that I’ve had to walk away from. They think just because they haven’t made any money yet, you shouldn’t either.

  13. Ben

    #1 and #2 = SO TRUE

    Is there really a nice way to say “you get what you pay for” to a client?

  14. Shannon

    I would like to add from experience: if you quote say $2,500 for a job and they say “we can only pay $1,800” DON’T DO IT!! It’s hard when you really need the money but it will become a nightmare and they will demand more and more…tell them what you can do for $1,800 and outline it clearly making sure they sign a contract. They will not only respect you more for it, they will know they can’t walk all over you either…and they will if you give in.

  15. Avonelle Lovhaug

    Shannon – I’d just add that an okay response is “Well, yes I can do it for only $1,800 if we remove this and that and the other thing.” Simply reducing your price won’t help you in the term, but reducing price with features isn’t so bad. I’m a coder not a designer so it may be easier for me to do this than your scenario.

  16. Avonelle Lovhaug

    Something else worth trying – offer the customer a discount if they pay everything up front. That will make it hard for them to cancel in the middle, and it certainly means that you’ll care less if they disappear at the end.

  17. artcoder

    This is funny, because it rings so true. But thinking seriously… This is also sad because its so true — the things that freelancers have to put up with.

  18. Dan

    I have a number 10 at the moment, oh boy is that annoying. Sadly I didn’t get a deposit, but luckily I haven’t done too much work and the work I have done is new to me, so I can use it in another project (silver lining)

    A great read, Cheers :)

  19. Jason McIntosh

    A lot of these would be fixed by two things:

    1. Have both parties sign a contract before you begin any work
    2. Charge by the hour

    (2) isn’t always available for every client, but (1) should be. If the client isn’t capable of drawing up contracts, provide one yourself.

    With a little research you can find some boilerplate contracts that you can customize to fit your needs. I also recommend spending the money to get a lawyer to proofread it before setting it loose on someone for the first time.

    A full-time freelance programmer needs minimal legal protection, at the least. It’s worth every penny, and really does obviate half or more of the situations in this list; you’ll worry a lot less about your client doing these lame things if you both know that they’re legally bound not to!

    In short: Being an independent contractor > being a developer who doesn’t use contracts.

  20. Andy

    I wrote an article about my terrible experience doing some work for a disorganised consulting firm.

    A lot of what you say rings true

  21. marsha

    Here’s another one…”there’s just something about it that I don’t quite like, I can’t put my finger on it. Can you test out a few options, change a couple of fonts…etc and we’ll go from there.”

    And you’re like….”Whoa, if YOU don’t know what you don’t like, you’re asking me to shoot around in the dark in hope of finding out what you don’t like?”


  22. Jamie Huskisson

    I’m going to have to write up a follow up post to this :)

    Including ‘there’s a bug, go fix it’

  23. Misti

    I’m more of a freelance writer and editor than a coder (though I’m working on learning that), so I charge per word. Thankfully, I’ve only run across a few of these, but my first (accidental) freelance job was good enough that they taught me what to do and some of what to avoid.

    (Uh, yeah, I’m not much out of the “I can’t use Mum’s credit card” stage.)

    Also thankfully, though I do have clients try to add onto my assignments, they have (so far) paid me for it.

    Thank you very much for these reminders!


  24. Téa Brennan

    LOL!!! That is way too funny and I have heard all of those too – with the exception of the “Mum’s Credit Card” one.

    I learned the hard way, believe me…

    I now ask for a 50% deposit. This covers me financially and I refuse to start even clicking in Photoshop before I receive it. Those that are genuine are willing to pay, and I am not completely unreasonable at all and will knock it down to 20% if there’s a good reason, but I still odnt do any work until I receive the deposit.

    I do do the occasional cheap job, but only if it has strategic interest for me or is something that is particularly creative. Otherwise, cough up chump ;)

  25. Kevin

    #6 is known as “scope creep” as the scope of the project keeps creeping up. It happens to me in everything I do, photography, web development, and writing. Being very specific in the proposals, and contracts helps to keep that in check, and of course good clients realize that it will cost more.

    I’ve experienced all but numbers 4 and 8, though now I will be very aware…

  26. JerryS

    Very good. But you missed my favorite:

    “We want you to do it for a share of the future profits. This is a great idea which will make a lot of money.”

    I just point out I’m not a bank and don’t make loans. If their idea is so good, they should be able to get a loan.

  27. Rose

    What a list! I do grant research and I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard some of these excuses!

    I get a lot of “can we pay you out of the grant money that we get” kind of thing – of which I turn them down! There is just too much grant fraud going on now and I CERTAINLY don’t want to be a part of it!

  28. Metoh

    Sometimes, they make you do stuffs for them and it looks like a normal job.

    Then when you completed up to their requirements,

    They say, “I forgot to inform you that I asked my friend to do it, and he did a better job, but thanks for your efforts.”

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